Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Politics of Ethnic Cleansing

Have you been noticing the events in Kenya lately? They had a national election last week that is being contested and as a result of the enmity involved in the election several incidents of violence.

The most notable and horrendous of these was the burning of a church in which dozens of people had taken refuge from the violence in the streets. Not only were women and children burned to death in this fire, but one report told of a child who escaped the flames but was thrown back into the fire to die.

How, any reasonable person would ask, could such a thing happen? The answer was phrased by a reporter from the BBC as an incident of “ethnic cleansing”. If ever there was a whitewash phrase in the English language that is it. The kind of political mind that dreams up a phrase like that is only a degree or two from the kind of mind that could allow its owner to pick up a small child and hurl him back into the fire from which he had just escaped.

“Cleansing” is a result of removing dirt. It is not the result of killing human beings. “Ethnic cleansing” is a term which allows a politician to point out that there is a problem without having to do anything about it as he would if he called it what it is – GENOCIDE. It doesn’t matter if the victims are Serbs, Sudanese, Kenyans, Tootsies or Jews. The crime is still the same.

Although made to appear like a spur of the moment thing – as this church burning was handled by the Kenyan government – it never is. It is premeditated. A survivor whom the BBC reporter interviewed named one of her attackers who had been her neighbor. She said repeatedly, “How could he do this? It was Peter, my neighbor. We have been friendly for years. How could he do this?”

The answer, of course, is that if acting alone her neighbor would never have done such a thing, but when whipped into a frenzy by the wild rioting going on around him and by the racist/tribal language of “ethnic cleansing” he found himself treating everyone from the neighboring tribe as something less than human.

I rarely have anything good to say about George W. Bush, but I will say that he was right when he pointed out that what was happening in Sudan last year was genocide. On the other side of the ledger, he turned out to be capable of pointing it out, but then doing nothing about it. That kind of callousness in his character ought to raise doubts about the honesty of his “Christian faith”.

As a society, though, we cannot claim to be much better. We agreed with his characterization of the Sudanese situation but did not insist that something be done about it. We have also signed off on his program of slaughtering Iraqis for no good reason. As a nation, we have sat silently by while he has attacked that nation without just cause and has turned away from the Geneva Convention which was a dividing line between savage behavior and controlled warfare.

We pound our pulpits and proclaim our status as the defenders of freedom and the rights of man while we violate the basic agreement that separates civilized behavior from barbarism.

Our Supreme Court argues over whether it is more humane to kill a prisoner with one injection or three without seriously asking whether it is humane to kill anyone at all by any means.

Our courts system routinely deprives people of their freedom and rights as citizens for crimes like marijuana use keeping our prisons full and a disenfranchised underclass equally full of discontent and hopelessness and makes us a nation known to the world for having a the highest percentage of its population behind bars. Is this anything but a more subtle form of ethnic cleansing?

Our political system continuously brings only the rich to high office and more deeply ingrains into itself the means by which those rich continue to become richer and richer while the middle class shrinks and the poorest class finds itself being dragged even further out of the picture.

It would be easy to go on and on about the ways in which we think one way and act another, but the point is that we need to do some serious soul searching in this society. Sadly what we see instead is arrogant breast beating; not only by the administration, but by the congress and, sad to say, a great many citizens who seem so convinced of this nation’s righteousness that they are unwilling to admit to any blemishes on the national reputation.

We are engaged in a political campaign season that will almost certainly result in a change of party control. Do we dare hope that among those candidates calling for meaningful change, there is one who will really seek it?

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored.
But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

The reason for going was to keep the crude flowing and raise a false flag abroad. – from a poem by Jack Evans titled 3500 Souls -

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